Thursday Thoughts: If This Is Supposed To Be A Down Year, The Columbus Blue Jackets Need To See What They've Got

By Ed Francis on August 19, 2021 at 1:20 pm
Joonas Korpisalo should be traded before the start of the season, if the Columbus Blue Jackets truly see this as a rebuilding year.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty of reason to be excited about the future of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Just how excited, though, is a question that the Blue Jackets should look to answer during the 2021-22 season.

After moving roughly one third of their roster from January's start to the 2020-21 season, team management has acknowledged that this season is one of a re-something. Retool, rebuild, the adjective doesn't really matter. The Blue Jackets are back in the fiercely-tough Metropolitan Division this year, and the odds of a playoff berth are limited. (Limited, at best, if we're being candid. Tell me the four teams in the division that the Blue Jackets end up ahead in the standings, which is what they'll need to do to qualify for the postseason.)

But that's fine, because the future looks as good as it ever has for the Blue Jackets. They had what looks to be a fantastic draft just last month, particularly the three first round picks. They have three young Russian forwards, all coming off fantastic seasons in the KHL.

Amongst the teams best proven players right now, there is plenty of youth. Patrik Laine is just 23, even though it feels like he's been in the league for a decade. Zach Werenski just turned 24, the same age as Jack Roslovic. Even Oliver Bjorkstrand, who at this point feels like one of the 'old guys', will be just 26 for almost the entire upcoming season. 

The cupboards may be even more full, though, and Columbus needs to take this season to see just what they have moving forward. 

They can do that in a few different ways. The first is to put Adam Boqvist on the top defensive pairing. He's probably the leading contender as it is, but the now 21-year-old (happy belated, Adam) acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the Seth Jones trade has top-pairing written all over him. Andrew Peeke and Jake Bean, both 23, must also see big minutes on the blue line this year. Both have the potential to flourish in the NHL, but - especially in Peeke's case - haven't had the opportunity to do so. This season needs to be their opportunity. 

The story is no different with the forwards. Is Alexandre Texier a top-line talent? If so, can he play center? Win, lose, or draw, Columbus needs to use this season to find out. The Blue Jackets have made clear they really like Eric Robinson. I do too, but at 26, he needs to shift from being a player with plenty of potential to a player who is playing up to his potential. 

Emil Bemstrom, 22, and Liam Foudy, 21, were stymied under former head coach John Tortorella. This season needs to be one in which general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the rest of the Blue Jackets' brass sees if either can elevate their game to the next level. It may not pretty at times, but it will be necessary. 

It doesn't stop there, though. Part of seeing what they've got also means that the Blue Jackets need to move Joonas Korpisalo, even if it's only a mid-round draft pick they get in return. He, along with fellow netminder Elvis Merzlikins, will be an unrestricted free agent at the of the season. It's abundantly clear that one of them is in their final season with the team, and it feels like the Blue Jackets like Elvis quite a bit more of the two. 

The thing is, the team has never physically seen Merzlikins as goaltender #1. Since coming to Columbus two seasons ago, he's always been part of a tandem. Can he be that long-term #1 that the Blue Jackets need? It seems that way, but the best thing the Blue Jackets can do this season is to find out, and that means moving Korpisalo. A rebuilding team does not need a reliable back-up, especially one who will be leaving the team at seasons' end. Move him, and move him before the season starts. Find out is Elvis can rock it at the #1 goalie of the future. 

One more thing: name Boone Jenner the captain, already. The writing is on the wall, and Jenner makes the most sense for a myriad of reasons. The notion made by a select few (internet experts) that the team doesn't "deserve" a captain or shouldn't have one is foolish, especially when there's one player who has separated himself from the pack. To not name Boone the captain would borderline on disrespect to the alternate captain and longest-tenured Blue Jacket.

None of these moves will pay off with a Stanley Cup this season, or even a surprise trip to the playoffs. But they would be a step in the right direction, and this franchise (and its fanbase) needs that now more than ever.